Orthodoxy and sexuality
Posted 12 March 2005 - 09:13 AM
"Again, vice is the wrong use of our conceptual images of things, which leads us to misuse the things themselves. In relation to women, for example, sexual intercourse, rightly used, has as its purpose the begetting of children. He, therefore, who seeks in it only sensual pleasure uses it wrongly, for he reckons as good what is not good. When such a man has intercourse with a woman, he misuses her. And the same is true with regard to other things and our conceptual images of them."
I know that some people dont agree with this teaching. They feel there must be more to sex than just the begetting of children. I seem to remember Saint John Chrysostom teaching that the reason sex is pleasurable is because if it wasnt, no-one would want to do it. Perhaps we over-complicate these matters.
Posted 12 March 2005 - 02:56 PM
Note also that St. Maximos refers to "sensual pleasure" in sexuality as being sinful. He does not say pleasure itself is wrong but rather the gratification of sensuality which is different. For example there is & can be something pleasurable & good in the closeness of human company without this being sensual & hence sinful.
Of course though we would do well to take to heart the saint's warnings about what is sinful- sensuality- for one suspects that some of the more extreme defences of sexuality in our times are really an attempted defence of sensuality.
In Christ- Fr Raphael
Posted 20 March 2005 - 01:37 AM
apologies for this belated post on the topic,
but my research obligations have taken priority.
I would like to thank everyone who has responded
with their views, comments, suggestions.
Thank you, Byron, for the Sherrard book and
the website. I have just got hold of the former
and will have a look at the latter as soon as
possible. I think I need to clarify that my
doctoral research has nothing to do with the
concept of sexuality or auto-eroticism in Late
Antiquity or Byzantium. On the contrary, I
am working on a historiographical and historical
study of Procopius' of Caesarea's books on the
Gothic campaigns of the Emperor Justinian which
is a very 'secular' topic.
My question derived from personal discussions
with friends and my inability to formulate a
persuasive Orthodox response. In that context,
I was concerned to discover support from
the Scripture, the Church Fathers and saints on
the subject as well as any serious academic
study from a psychological/psychiatric
From that point of view, Anesti, I certainly did
not imply that one should not read non-Orthodox
writers or respect their contributions to
scholarship, but rather that I, personally,
was interested in receiving my arguments from
the Orthodox perspective. However, I still hold
to my academic view of western Late Antique/
Byzantine scholars primarily treating
ecclesiastical and hagiographical literature
with a scholastic and secular mind. Very rarely,
if ever, have I met someone in my faculty here
in Oxford who had even considered reading any
of the readily available introductions to the
Orthodox Church, including Fr Meyendorff's and
Bishop Kallistos' books on the subject. After
all, whether one likes this or not, the modern
Orthodox church is the Byzantine church, not
only in terms of theology and dogma, but also
in terms of historical tradition. Therefore,
I would expect that these academics would have,
at least, perused relevant books in the same
way that if I were to study Judaism or Islam,
I could hardly be expected to do so without
reading their sacred literature and related
introductions on these topics.
Having just returned from a conference here in
Oxford regarding the religion of the others
in Late Antiquity (others meaning, heretics,
Jews, Samaritans) and being subjected once more
to the current, 'trendy', academic views of
how Arians were not really Arians, but branded
so by their opponents, the same applying for
most of the heresies, I do feel there is a
prejudiced, secular view of the Eastern Orthodox
Church. Frankly, I have never understood how
the entire Orthodox Church could have been at
fault in proclaiming the sanctity of St Athanasius of Alexandria, St Cyril of Alexandria,
the three Cappadocian Fathers, not to mention
the target of most western venom, St Constantine
the Great, who, if reading or listening to
contemporary western scholars, were either
deluded, belligerent or scheming individuals
intent on spreading their propaganda and the
only reason people like Arius were termed
heretics is that the above belonged to the side
of the winners. Unfortunately, I fail to see
how this can be the case, but then I have been
called a narrow-minded, confessional Orthodox
Christian (by a fellow Orthodox, I might add,
albeit a convert) in line with both Fr Romanides
and Fr Florovsky (both of whom it would be an
honour for me to be condemned with although
I fail to see how I can achieve their level of
authority and erudition). So perhaps it is a
question of cultural perspective, but I will
maintain my opinion on western academia in
relation to my field of study. A personal
note here to add that several years ago my
supervisor told me that Peter Brown had just
returned from his first visit to Mt Athos (this
being 2001/2) and having met his first holy man
When I asked my supervisor how he had reacted,
he answered:'He was very disconcerned'. I write
this because it is indicative of people who
have spent their lives researching and writing
on issues which they have not explored fully such
as Orthodox asceticism and monasticism which is
very much a living tradition, not only
spiritually, but historically. Brown's famous
article on the rise of the Holy Man in Late
Antiquity views this as a social and political
phenomenon rather than examining the spiritual
implications or contexts. Professor Brown is
a highly erudite scholar, but that does not
preclude him from succumbing to failings.
I do apologise for the lengthy and perhaps
irrelevant digression, but having studied
hagiography as part of my Master's degree and
spending the last nine years here listening to
the prevailing notions of scholarship on these
topics, not to mention discovering that half
the Orthodox saints are either pure inventions
or fictional elaborations of different persons
-I exaggerate when I say half, but, unfortunately
not when I talk about invention - I am somewhat
sceptical about the contribution of western
scholarship to our understanding of the life
of the Late Antique and Byzantine theological
To return to the topic of autoeroticism:is
there anyone with easy access to an Old Testament
(unfortunately I don't have one with me) who
can tell me whether there is a story concerning
Avnan (from whose name derives the Greek
word for masturbation)? I seem to recall once
hearing about this, but have never followed it
up and would be grateful for any help in locating
the passage, if it exists.
Thank you to those who will have the patience
to read this extraordinarily lengthy post!
Posted 22 March 2005 - 06:30 AM
I think the OT figure you are referring to is spelt Onan in English. He is found in Genesis 38 ( here), and is famous for having "cast his seed to the ground" rather than making love to his deceased brother's wife as was expected of him by the custom of the day. He received a severe punishment from God for this, which does not bode well for those of us guilty of the sin under discussion!
On a more serious note though, these OT accounts are refreshingly frank on sexual matters, and remind one of a time when the awareness of a link between sexual behaviour and holiness was more conscious than it is today.
As to the Orthodox interpretation of the Onan story, I am personally looking forward to the publication of the Orthodox Septuagint in summer this year, because I have a lot of questions about how we Orthodox understand the OT. I just hope the commentary will be thorough.
Posted 22 March 2005 - 07:04 AM
Posted 22 March 2005 - 02:38 PM
You're perspectives are very enlightening to me - and you've brought to the fore realities I were not aware of. I take for granted that academics of such prestige would be more open-minded.
I'm looking into the whole issue of self-erotism - have some ideas on other topics which would relate and may lead to answers.
Guest_DR. R. E. POUND
Posted 22 March 2005 - 03:36 PM
Posted 22 March 2005 - 06:08 PM
Regardless of the secular view, many Fathers of the Holy Orthodox Church teach that self-satisfaction is really no different than adultery, having a sexual relationship with yourself is still having a relationship with someone who is NOT your spouse. I would say that many in the Orthodox Church would have a difficult time referring to this as self "fulfillment."
Guest_DR. R. E. POUND
Posted 23 March 2005 - 12:16 AM
Posted 23 March 2005 - 12:36 AM
Posted 23 March 2005 - 12:42 AM
Although I still believe that our carnal sins are severe, I do not think that God will judge us in quite the same way as the OT people for the simple fact that we live in a totally different society. I have often heard, from my spiritual father and other devout people, that many holy fathers of the Church, when asked about the judgement, have said that God will take into account the times in which each one of us lives. This is not to say that sin is not always sin and that we should not, as always, strive to cleanse ourselves of passions, but that God, being merciful, understands better than us the society which we live in nowadays and the distorted perception of many things which it advocates. Indeed, if He didn't, then I don't think many of us would stand a chance.
Today's society is openly materialistic and advertises unrestrained sexual activity, even perversions, as 'natural', 'healthy' expressions of the sexual instinct in direct contravention of Christian law and morality. This is especially apparent to those of us who belong to a younger generation and are often extremely isolated amongst our peers from this point of view. I have always taken comfort in the thought that God realises the temptations which beset us and the weakening of our spirits and gives us strength to rise up again and again as we do each time we participate in confession. However, this does not mean that we should not seek to understand the true purpose of the gifts that He has given us and the appropriate use to which these should be put to or that we should neglect our endeavours to overcome temptation. But I wouldn't worry too much about being cast down dead as, if that were the case, many of us would certainly not be alive today. Many things in the OT also reflect the mentality of the people to which they were addressed to rather than God's will. As I have been taught, the OT mirrors many things which were fulfilled with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but should not be taken literally in every respect as God tailored his responses to the understanding of the Israelites at the time. I think it is an important point to keep in mind as so often God is portrayed as vengeful and punishing based on a misunderstanding of the OT when, in actual fact, He acquiesced to the demands of His people and their level of understanding. We are the ones who change, God is 'ever-exisitng and eternally the same' and He is a loving God.
further to reading:
I have discovered a book called Eros and Transformation by Fr Basil Zion (William Basil Zion), published in 1992, giving an Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Marriage and Sexuality, including homosexuality and masturbation. I have not read it yet, but would be interested to discover if anyone else has and what they think of it. From the introduction, it appears that Fr Basil was also a trained psychoanalyst and moral theologian before his conversion to Orthodoxy.
any comments are welcome
Posted 23 March 2005 - 07:45 AM
I chanced upon a group called "Axios" on the net, which claims that an actively homosexual lifestyle is not incompatible with being an Orthodox Christian. I read an article On Being Gay and Orthodox Christian which tries to defend this, and found some of the arguments a bit elaborate, and rather 'untidy' theologically. I do understand the way gay people must feel about the attitudes they encounter from religious people who (wrongly) condemn them for their sexuality rather than showing compassion. As a psychologist, I agree with the author of this article that a great deal of suffering and a lot of unhealthy side-effects are usually caused by being told that the way one is is not acceptable, or worse, that it is "unnatural" or even - sadly - some Christians who forget to separate the sin from the sinner and claim that homosexuals are hated by the God of love Himself.
However, the above article claims that even the currently (I believe) mainstream Orthodox teaching that homosexual people are loved by God, but are called to struggle against their fallenness as we all are(and not pursue an actively gay lifestyle) , is itself wrong and unhealthy and impractical.
On the one hand, I can understand this viewpoint too. On the other I am thinking: is there really any sound theological basis for arguing that gay relationships which are characterised by mutual commitment, stability, trust and 'love' as the author claims, are acceptable to the Lord? Is the rite of adelphopoiisis indeed what the author, Mr Zymaris claims it to be?
I look forward to reading responses, particularly from theologians like Fr Raphael and Dr Steenberg, but also from all who want to be compassionate and honest, but also fair and Orthodox in their views.
Posted 23 March 2005 - 01:36 PM
Guest_DR. R. E. POUND
Posted 23 March 2005 - 03:36 PM
I do find that the normal action of the human body often engages in = these kind of actions, even in an unconscious manner merely for the = physical releases involved without any intention of thinking about any = other person. However the most important point, to me at least, that = you made, is relating to the marriage union of the husband and wife = showing the Trinitarian Union of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am = not a Hebrew Spiritualist, though I do love reading from their ancient = writers and commentators, and a Jewish step-father planted within me the = seeds for future Jewish studies. So I do agree that the various forms = of marriage here in this present evil world suggest the union of the = Three in One, and other blessed unions as taught in the Sacred = Scriptures.
I find your reply to be very helpful and richly full of wonderful = Biblical truths. Thank you so very much for sharing these points with = me and others. May the Lord bless you, dear brother; =
Guest_DR. R. E. POUND
Posted 23 March 2005 - 03:55 PM
Another point of order is that the sin was in refusing to raise up = children to the dead brother's wife as the next of kin and/or the = kinsman redeemer often did. Had the person in question refused to place = his seed in his sister in law, and merely went out and milked a goat, = would goat-milking now be considered as a sin? Beyond all doubt had he = merely milked a goat rather than pulling out, it would have been sinful = because this is not what the Lord God said to do. But would that have = made goat-milking sinful?
So in all proper respect I find that there are two questions here that = are not answered, what did the casting of the seed on the ground consist = of, and why was it sinful?=20
Was the casting of the seed on the ground masturbation or merely = pulling out? Was it sinful because he did this, or because he disobeyed = the Lord's command to produce seed unto his brother's name?
While discussing this event with others in the past, I have seen them = using this to try and prove that any form of birth control is sinful. =
Posted 23 March 2005 - 05:36 PM
Posted 23 March 2005 - 05:55 PM
Posted 23 March 2005 - 06:01 PM
Guest_DR. R. E. POUND
Posted 23 March 2005 - 11:55 PM
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